Popular Culture

“Popular culture” is not the opposite of or the alternative to something called “high culture.” It is not degraded, debased, simple, or undisciplined. Nor is it defined primarily by its mass appeal or commercial values. It is not the size of the audience Aa* is important but its diversity.Read more »

Why These Three Men Are Part Of Your Soul

“Of late the American character has received marked and not altogether flattering attention from American critics.” The comment, from the opening page of Constance Rourke’s great, unjustly ignored book American Humor , bears one of her trademarks, a gently ironic understatement. “Not altogether flattering”—a muted characterization, indeed, of the jeremiads hurled against their homeland by the members of Rourke’s generation, the American writers who came of age just before World War I. Read more »

Caution: I Brake For History

A BOLD NEW KIND OF COLLEGE COURSE BRINGS the student directly to the past, nonstop, overnight, in squalor and glory, for weeks on end

 

O Public Road … you express me better than I can express myself. ” I first read Walt Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road,” in Leaves of Grass , as an Ohio schoolboy. The great democratic chant struck me hard, a lightning bolt of simple, authoritative words proclaiming that only in motion do people have the chance to turn dreams into reality. Even as a fourteen-yearold I already suspected this. Read more »

What Is Jazz?

Wynton Marsalis believes America is in danger of losing the truest mirror of our national identity. If that’s the case, we are at least fortunate that today jazz’s foremost performer is also its most eloquent advocate.

When Wynton Marsalis burst into the public eye in the early 1980s, it was as a virtuoso trumpet player. From the start he was an articulate talker too, but his bracing opinions were off-thecuff and intuitive; his ideas, like his playing, needed seasoning. In the years since, not only has Marsalis’s music deepened tremendously, his thinking has matured and coalesced to produce a coherent theory of jazz.Read more »

Germany’s America

For a century and a half Germans have been deeply ambivalent about the United States, and their contradictory feelings say much about their future in Europe and the world

In 1989 the Berlin wall came down. A year later the unimaginable had become a reality: Germany, divided in 1945, was reunified, and it was beginning to raise a major voice not only in Europe but also in world politics. Hopes are high that this time Germany will assume a role among nations different from the one it played in the first half of the century. But in East and West there are deep and traumatic memories of two world wars, of how the Germans saw themselves then and of how they treated their neighbors. Read more »

Walter Winchell

The most powerful columnist who ever lived single-handedly made our current culture of celebrity— and then was destroyed by the tools he had used to build it

“WHY WALTER WINCHELL?” I have been asked repeatedly during the years I have been working on a biography of him. Why someone so passé or someone so beneath contempt as also to be beneath biography? There are, I believe, two sets of reasons a biographer chooses a subject: the ones he knows at the outset and the subliminal ones he only discovers along the way, although the latter often prove to have been the more powerful lure and to say more about the subject as well. Read more »

In Love With Lawsuits

Why Litigiousness Is a National Character Trait

BACK BEFORE CLAUS VON BULOW ever heard of Jeremy Irons, a judge who found the news media’s attitude toward the case puzzling put a question to a friendly television reporter.

“Why do you people treat this as a big-deal court matter? It’s not precedent-setting. The lawyers are good, but they’re hardly headliners. You don’t even have a murder. Nothing, in fact, but sex and money.” Read more »

Mammy Her Life And Times

BORN IN SLAVERY AND RAISED IN ITS PAINFUL AFTERMATH TO BECOME ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL AMERICAN ICONS, SHE HAS BEEN MADE TO ENCOMPASS LOVE AND GUILT AND RIDICULE AND WORSHIP —AND STILL SHE LIVES ON

On Highway 61, just outside of Natchez, Mississippi, stands Mammy’s Cupboard, a thirty-foot-high concrete figure of a black woman. For years she was a famous landmark, staring with electric eyes from beneath a pillbox cap, wearing earrings made of horseshoes, and holding a tray. Under Mammy’s red brick skirts, punched with arched windows, Mrs. Henry Gaude operated a small restaurant, its dining room supported inside with cypress beams recovered from a cotton-gin house.Read more »

Streaking—1885

As we go to press with this issue the country is swept by a new fad—“streaking,” or running naked through public places. Rapid movement is of the essence in this phenomenon, perhaps to reduce the participants’ embarrassment as well as the threat of apprehension by the authorities. On the whole it is not, we think, an evil or unpleasant spectacle, sometimes even giving rise to distant images of golden boys and girls, forever panting, streaking after each other around Olympic racecourses, mulberry bushes, or antique urns.Read more »